Sesskia’s Diary, part 75

30 Lennitay

I feel like such a fool. “I hope there’s some way I can help.” How pathetic.

I’ve made a nest for myself in these furs, and I’ve cried all the tears that are in me, and now I’m going to write all of this down, though I don’t know what the point is. Maybe it’s so I can look back later and remind myself not to be a fool again. I don’t even care if the God-Empress learns that someone’s been in her treasure rooms. Not that she’d know it was me. Aselfos can’t be that good, or he’d have caught me already.

We found out what was wrong with Terrael. And the secret of the Codex Tiurindi. But I’m going to write it all down as it happened, leaving nothing out, and these are the sort of conversations I wish I could forget. What Terrael said—I know I’m going to make mistakes, and there are gaps, and I’ve made it seem that my memory is perfect and I know that’s not honest, and right now I don’t give a damn about honest because when everything is falling apart, fiction is more comforting than fact. But I’m doing my best.

I spent the morning practicing pouvrin until I had a bit of a headache, then I took over a scrap of wall and began doodling, nothing real, just experimenting to see if I could reproduce the shapes of pouvrin. It wasn’t successful, but it gave me some ideas for other things I might try. I have no idea what the point would be, now, and I can’t believe how hopeful I was at the time. I’m such a fool.

All the mages were there except Audryn and Terrael, and I think everyone was doing variations on what I was doing—sketching kathana plans, or practicing th’an. Cederic and Vorantor were at the circle, talking quietly about something on the board Cederic held. I remember thinking how friendly they looked, and how that showed how impossible it was to tell anything just by looking.

I wish—remembering them standing together, I wish I could have warned Cederic somehow…but what would I say? I’ve already shown what a failure I am at saying the right thing—damn it, now I’m crying again. Enough. This is me writing it down, no more self-pity.

So. Audryn and Terrael finally arrived. Terrael still looked awful, but now Audryn did too. I started to approach them, but Terrael said something to Audryn, who shook her head and clutched at his sleeve to make him stop. He pulled away from her and went straight to where Cederic and Vorantor were, and said something to Cederic in a low voice.

Vorantor said, “I see no reason why you can’t tell all of us what you’ve learned, Master Peressten. Unless you think no one but the Kilios deserves to know.”

Terrael looked devastated. Cederic said, “Go ahead, Master Peressten, Sai Vorantor is correct.”

Audryn seemed ready to begin crying, and I went quickly to her, but when I asked what was wrong, she shook her head again and covered her mouth with her sleeve. Terrael’s shoulders slumped, and he took the Codex out of his trouser pocket and opened it.

“I’ve translated enough to know that it has the information we—the information about the coming disaster,” he said, loudly enough that everyone could hear him. “It has most of the kathana the mages used when they created the first disaster. We can use it to…to…” He stopped, swallowed, and turned back a few pages.

“Veris wasn’t a mage. She was responsible for chronicling the acts of the mages, back then, which means the Codex isn’t as useful as a record by an actual mage would be in terms of giving us a complete kathana we could use. But because she’s an outsider, she sees their magic—what existed before the disaster—the way we might, and in that sense the book is more useful—”

“Please skip to the important part, Master Peressten,” Vorantor said in that indulgent way he has when he’s talking to the Darssan mages, like they’re clever children, though some of them are older than he is.

This is important!” Terrael shouted, startling everyone; he looks so harmless, so innocent, and it breaks my heart to think of how much all this hurt him. “Veris, and then Barklan, didn’t understand much of what they described about magic. What they describe was something of a combination of our magic and Sesskia’s—th’an expressed not through writing, but through the power of will. That’s a part I don’t understand yet.

“But the experiment that went wrong was intended to make magic more accessible, make it easier to learn and to use. They wanted to remove some of the…the inherent requirements of the magic. Barklan talks about it as if the magic were alive and could make demands, and that may or may not be true, but it’s what those mages were counting on.”

“So they tried to remove the magic, and separated their world instead,” Cederic said.

“Maybe,” said Terrael. “There wasn’t anyone left to record what actually happened, and the Codex was destroyed in the disaster, so the last record is simply a note that they were ready to try the kathana, though they call it something else. It’s the…the earlier records, the experiments, that tell what must have gone wrong.”

He turned more pages. “They practiced—I don’t know how they isolated magic, but they did, and they practiced removing the parts they didn’t want. And it worked, for short periods of time. They would…they would separate the magic into identical pieces, exactly the same except that one had the magic they wanted and the other didn’t. Just like how we summoned the Codex. But they could only keep them separated for seconds before they drew back together. Irresistible attraction. Because the magic calls to itself.”

“I fail to see the point, Master Peressten,” Vorantor said, exactly as if Terrael hadn’t snapped at him before.

“I’m coming to it,” Terrael said, though he sounded as if the words were being dragged out of him. “So with the final kathana, the one that caused the disaster, the plan was to suppress the magic long enough to take out what they wanted and recreate it in their image. Because if there was no magic, the pieces stayed separated. And if there was magic, nothing…nothing could keep the pieces from recombining.”

By this time he was talking directly to Cederic, as if no one else were in the room, and I could tell Cederic was as mystified as the rest of us, but he nodded encouragement. That probably made Terrael feel worse.

“The rest is somewhat conjecture, but I swear to you, Sai Aleynten, I’ve gone over this a hundred times and I know it’s true,” Terrael said. “The kathana was too powerful, and it tore the world in half, two almost identical pieces with key differences and all the magic gone, or at least spread so thin it couldn’t be used for anything. And they stayed apart for hundreds of years while the magic gathered itself and people learned to use it again, until there was enough of it to reverse the process.

“Every th’an, every kathana, even Sesskia’s pouvrin bring the worlds closer together. And there’s no way to stop it. They aren’t meant to be apart. Sai Aleynten, I’m sorry, but there’s no way to keep them apart. It’s impossible.”

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 74

29 Lennitay

Something is wrong with Terrael. I think. I mean, it’s probably normal that he’s avoiding people while he’s working on the Codex, but avoid Audryn? I doubt even Terrael could be that obsessed. And I’ve seen him go out of his way to keep from meeting Cederic in the hall. He acts…furtive. As if he has some secret he’s afraid he might give away if he steps wrong. Audryn couldn’t find him at lunchtime, so she had me and the Darssan mages look for him, and I found him in the circle chamber, scribbling on the walls.

But he wasn’t writing th’an, it looked like ordinary handwriting, not that I can read that. When he saw me, he turned absolutely white, then scrubbed off the wall as fast as he could and said it was just a theory he was trying on some I don’t know what, it was technical linguistic things and I didn’t understand him. Which, I think, was the idea. He wanted me distracted. If he’s so upset about something that he doesn’t remember I can’t read his language…something is definitely wrong with Terrael.

I told Cederic about what I learned last night, and he was furious at me, not that anyone but me could tell. When he calmed down, he said, “I think you are correct that Aselfos is planning some kind of power play. What Denril has to do with it…I dislike guessing, but it sounds as if he intends to turn his magical abilities to Aselfos’s benefit, though I cannot imagine what kind of interference they think I might represent. From what you overheard, Aselfos intends to take the God-Empress’s place, and it would legitimize him if the chief priest-mage asserted that his claim is more valid than hers.”

“So what should we do?” I said.

“Nothing,” Cederic said. “We know too little to do anything but meddle, and I don’t know how that might upset the balance of power. The upcoming disaster is far more important than anything Aselfos might have in mind, though what you overheard suggests that their timing might be related to it. And if he does intend to eliminate the mages along with the God-Empress, I think he will find that we are not so easy to kill. Now, is there any chance I can persuade you to leave this alone?”

“No,” I said. “But I promise to be more careful. Does that help?”

“Not as much as you hope,” he said, but he was smiling, and I think he’s growing accustomed to the fact that this is what I am.

Terrael will finish the translation soon, and then Cederic will have to deal with Vorantor somehow. I don’t know what part I might play in his strategy. I hope there’s some way I can help.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 73

28 Lennitay

I’ve finally encountered Aselfos, though “encounter” is probably the wrong word, because it implies we met face to face, and I’m just as happy he doesn’t know I exist. Though that might not be true, depending on what he noticed last night.

I decided I was going to make more of an effort to figure out where Aselfos went, that night I saw him talking to Vorantor. He’d gone down the secret staircase into the treasure tower, and I already know that the treasure rooms only lead to one another and to the spiral passage inside the tower, and that the room with the war wagons has no visible exit other than the guarded one. He might have left the tower by the corridor I’d originally entered by, but there were also the brass double doors on the outside wall of the tower I’d never investigated, so I decided to try my luck with that.

I waited for Vorantor to finish his meditation, or whatever it is he does in the observatory after dinner, then I used the secret staircase to get into the treasure tower. I probably could have taken my original route, but Aselfos’s way is more fun.

Once inside, I trotted down the spiral passage to the double door, looked through it to be safe, then pushed it open (it was unlocked) and went inside. As I wrote before, it opened on a corridor about five feet long that made a sharp turn to the right. I peeked around the corner and saw a hallway extending off into the darkness, which I proceeded along, quietly and cautiously. I recalled my mental map of the palace and concluded that I was beneath the Sais’ wing. This was certainly close to the same length as that hallway, though much narrower.

Eventually I came to an iron door held only loosely in place by rusted hinges. The door was locked, and the strange thing was that the lock was much newer than the rest of the door. That seems foolish to me, given that someone could easily break the door down, bypassing the lock, but then there’s a lot about this that makes no sense to me.

I used the see-through pouvra and discovered that the corridor continued a short distance to another door, this one wooden. Also strange. I unlocked the iron door and went down the corridor to the wooden one, which was also locked, but with a simpler lock that wasn’t any newer than the door. I looked through it, but whatever was beyond it was too far away to make out details.

So I started to unlock the door and got a nasty surprise: someone had set a clever little trap on the locking mechanism. It wasn’t intended to harm anyone, just to show anyone who knew how to look that someone had passed through the door. A warning to the trap-setter. It was complicated enough that it would take at least three hands to prevent it from going off while the door was being unlocked, and would be impossible to stop if you were entering from the other direction. Now I was certain Aselfos used this route, because I bet he’s got that kind of devious and suspicious mind. So that’s one thing we have in common.

I examined the trap until I was sure I knew how it worked, and carefully removed the trap with my hands while I used the pouvra to unlock the door. I might have been able to do the whole thing with magic, but why take unnecessary chances?

I set the trap on the floor inside the corridor, out of the way, and shut the door behind me. The room beyond looked like it might be a music room, though the instruments leaning against the walls weren’t familiar to me. I peeked outside and was able to orient myself; I was in the wing containing all the empty guest chambers.

At this point I really had nothing to go on. I felt it was safe to assume that Aselfos had exited the tower through this door, and that he suspected someone might follow him on his trips up to leave notes for Vorantor. But I could only guess where he’d gone from here. I took the most obvious option, concealed myself, and went toward the one alcove off the main chamber that I hadn’t yet explored.

I’d only gone about a hundred feet when I was nearly caught. I admit I was careless, just as I’ve always feared using the concealment pouvra too much might make me. And I was getting tired. So it was mostly luck, and the fact that I’ve been doing this for a long time and my reflexes are excellent, that saved me.

I was nearly to the mosaic chamber when a door opened ahead of me and I had to dodge to one side and press myself flat against the wall. There was no convenient doorway for me to hide in, and I was grateful for the concealment pouvra even as I cursed myself for depending on it so much.

A man and a woman emerged from the open door. The woman said “…past time.”

“It will have to be enough,” said the man, and I recognized Aselfos’s voice. When he came closer, I got a better look at him. He was older than I’d guessed, nearly fifty, but lean and athletic, and he moved with assurance. That he could navigate the secret staircase did not surprise me at all.

His companion was about the same age, with close-cropped hair that was gray in the dim light, and although she was fat where he was slim, she moved with the same assurance, like someone accustomed to command. I recognized her after a few moments as one of the God-Empress’s soldiers, the one who’d worn a different uniform than the rest at the kathana. If this were Balaen, I’d assume she was some kind of general, though again, I don’t know the Castaviran Empire’s military ranks.

“It would help if we had a better estimate,” the woman said.

“Vorantor says the time is shrinking,” Aselfos said.

The woman snorted. “Vorantor is a problem.”

“He’ll validate my claim, and I’ll make him powerful,” Aselfos said. “Whether he’s right about this catastrophe or not. And his work on this supposed disaster is keeping the Kilios occupied.”

“I suppose as long as his summoning puts our resources in the right place at the right time, it doesn’t matter,” the woman said. “But you should tell Vorantor sooner is better. Who knows what idea the crazy bitch might take into her golden head?”

“Have patience,” Aselfos said, and he began to walk in my direction. I held my breath. “We’ll have a day’s warning, and that will have…” and they were out of earshot. I continued to hold my breath for a few more seconds, then released it slowly and retreated to the music room, through the door and into the hall, where I again paused before resetting the trap and locking everything behind me. Then I returned to my room as quickly as I could. That brings me to now.

I’m a thief, not a politician, but that sounded like a plot against the God-Empress to me. And Vorantor is involved. And they’re afraid of Cederic interfering, I think. I should tell Cederic. But…if Aselfos is planning to act against the God-Empress, how is that a bad thing? He might be a better option than her—almost certainly would be.

I just don’t know enough about Castaviran politics to know how a coup would affect the mages. They might be associated closely enough with the God-Empress that Aselfos would want to destroy them with her, and Vorantor has been negotiating with him for their protection. Or, knowing him, his own protection, and to hell with what happens to the rest of us. No, that’s too cynical even for me.

I’ll tell Cederic in the morning, wait for him to stop being sarcastic at me, and figure out what I can do.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 72

27 Lennitay

Very boring. Terrael is preoccupied with the Codex and the Darssan mages are half-heartedly cooperating with Vorantor’s mages on the kathanas he’s developed for “minimizing the damage” when the worlds come together.

Cederic was gone today, teaching the shield kathana to the God-Empress’s battle mages. He didn’t look happy about it when he returned, and I can’t blame him, but he really had no choice. He told me he wishes it wasn’t quite so simple a kathana, and I told him he should have thought of that before he went around being brilliant at people, which made him smile. What he needs is a good laugh, but I have a hard time imagining him laughing.

Terrael won’t talk about what he’s learned so far—says talking is a distraction, and makes him jump to conclusions—but I know he’s in ecstasy over being the first to read the Codex Tiurindi in centuries, maybe millennia. We still don’t know exactly how long it was after the disaster that civilization began repairing itself.

Nothing for me to do, though I could look at it as a good thing that the God-Empress hasn’t called on me to entertain her. Today I finally went to look at the picture in the floor of the mosaic room. It’s a falcon. It looks much more like the real bird than the helmets, but at least now I know where the inspiration came from. Exploring tonight for sure.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 71

26 Lennitay, continued

Vorantor’s eyes were wide and panicked. “What do you—what should I show you, God-Empress?” he begged.

“The Codex Tiurindi was written in a time when defensive magics were more refined than they are now, God-Empress,” Cederic said. “Would you care to see one of them?”

Vorantor’s eyes were even wider now. I know a good lie when I see one, and I prayed to the true God that Vorantor wouldn’t do or say anything to give Cederic’s game away. Of course there was no way the Codex Tiurindi could show the God-Empress anything, but she didn’t know that, and I was certain by the expressionless look on Cederic’s face that there were a lot of other things about magic she didn’t know.

“The book, please,” he said to Terrael, who was as wide-eyed as Vorantor, but handed the Codex to Cederic. He flipped it open (at random, I guessed) and said, “We will need to translate it to create the ultimate kathana, of course, but there are smaller pieces to the puzzle—here.”

He shut the book, tucked it into his trouser pocket, stripped off his robe and began scrubbing with it at the floor to remove the residue of the th’an. He’s slim, with a scattering of short dark hairs across his chest, and he has more muscle than I would have guessed, for an academic. He was nearly done before it occurred to anyone to join him. He threw the stained robe away and began chalking th’an on the floor, looked at the book again, chalked a few more th’an, then said, “Step back, please,” and made a few final marks.

A shimmering hemisphere about two feet tall sprang up around the th’an, glowing with a greenish-gold light that swirled like a film of oil across the hemisphere’s surface. Cederic stood and rapped on the hemisphere with his knuckles, making the oil ripple out from that point of contact as if his hand were a stone thrown into a lake. “You might ask one of your soldiers to strike it,” he said, “but I am not entirely certain it will not turn that force back on him.”

The God-Empress shrugged and snapped her fingers in the direction of her soldiers, and with some hesitation, one of them came forward. She pointed, and the soldier drew his knife and approached the hemisphere, then brought the weapon down as if he were stabbing an enemy in the back. The knife met the oily surface—and shattered.

No one spoke. The soldier looked impressed. All the mages looked stunned. I don’t know how I looked, awestruck probably. Cederic looked bored. The God-Empress nodded once, slowly. “I am satisfied,” she said. “Teach the others. And tell me when the book is translated.” She gestured at her soldiers, and they surrounded her as she left the room.

The instant she was gone, and the heavy door was shut, Vorantor was in Cederic’s face, shouting, “What in hell’s name were you thinking?”

“I was thinking,” Cederic said, not shying away from Vorantor’s ire, “that I would prefer that none of us be killed by the God-Empress’s soldiers.”

“You had no idea whether that kathana would work!” Vorantor shouted. “Kilios or no, you could barely have understood what you were reading—how could you even know it was what you said it was?”

“I didn’t,” Cederic said. “I made it up.”

That left Vorantor gaping with nothing to say. “Even Master Peressten cannot read that book,” Cederic said. “I gambled that the God-Empress would not believe that we were telling the truth that it would take time to translate all of it, and I…invented a kathana that would satisfy her.”

I think I was the only person watching Vorantor at that moment—everyone else was staring at Cederic in awe—and I was enjoying the look of stunned chagrin when it turned, for the briefest instant, into something much darker, something that frightened me. Then he smiled, and threw his arm around Cederic’s shoulders. “You never stop amazing me, old friend,” he said. “Cheers, everyone! It’s time to celebrate!”

The first cheers were weak little things, but they grew into robust, happy noise as it settled on everyone that we, first, had succeeded in the task that had driven us these many days, and second, were not dead. The room wasn’t really conducive to celebration, so we moved to the dining hall, and I ended up at the tail end of our procession next to Cederic, who looked as calm as always, though a bit scruffy in his reclaimed, wrinkled robe. He congratulated me on my part in the kathana, and I expressed my admiration at him making up a new one out of whole cloth.

“That may turn out to be a bad idea,” he said in a low voice. “It probably saved all our lives, so I do not regret it, but now the God-Empress will want us to turn that kathana to her army’s use. Just one more way in which we are giving her more power. And I am not entirely certain I remember how to repeat it.”

“I don’t believe you’ve forgotten a kathana in your entire life,” I said, making him smile, “and I don’t see that you had much choice. She wouldn’t have been satisfied with a kathana that showered her enemies with rose petals.”

He smiled again. “Not unless they were rose petals that exploded,” he said.

That brought us to the dining hall door, and I thought about inviting him to sit with me—he couldn’t possibly want to sit with Vorantor after that, could he?—but I hesitated too long, and he nodded at me and moved off to his usual table. So I sat with my friends, and we laughed, and drank too much wine, and had a wonderful time. My head hurts from the wine, so I’m going to sleep it off, and in the morning—strange, I don’t know what I’m going to do next.

I’ve been so focused on the kathana that I’m used to having direction, and now I think it’s a matter of waiting for Terrael to translate the book. And I really don’t know what happens then. Will Vorantor be able to accept that he’s been wrong? I really think he’d be capable of violence if threatened, and I’m sure he sees Cederic’s competence as a threat to his position. Never mind that Cederic wouldn’t want to be the God-Empress’s chief mage even if—well, no, if it meant saving both our worlds I think he’d accept the position. But certainly not for anything less.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 70

26 Lennitay, continued

The room was growing very warm, and I had trouble not rubbing away the sweat prickles under my armpits. Because I was focused on my mark, I didn’t see the next part, but I’d watched the Darssan mages practice, so I knew they were drawing th’an in a loose pattern surrounding the circle and the body-scribing mages.

With the magic made ready by the first th’an, and given duration by the body-scribers, the Darssan mages now defined the reality they wanted with a series of complex th’an. On the west side of the circle was a definition of our reality, and on the east side was the same definition with some key differences, namely, the existence of the Codex Tiurindi. I waited, and counted, my heart beating in time with the rhythm and not accelerating at all.

Then Cederic was in front of me, a pot of silver ink in his hand and a brush in the other, painting a th’an on my forehead, and the second he removed the brush I summoned the fire and scribed my th’an in lines of gold as thick as my wrist, halfway between myself and the red mark, which put it exactly over the circle.

White light sprang up from both sides of the circle, blazing brighter than the mages’ blue bodies, and I squinted hard, blinking away tears, and watched the fiery th’an shrink in on itself and then hover, distorted and frozen, over the center of the circle. I was aware of Cederic and Vorantor directly ahead of me, Cederic drawing th’an on the air and Vorantor scribbling on the floor, and then the white light filled my vision, and I closed my eyes and threw up my arms to cover them.

Nothing happened. The drumming stopped and the room was completely silent. I heard someone walking toward me and opened my eyes, blinking away afterimages, and saw Vorantor bend to pick up a small book, no larger than one of my hands. It was bound in gray leather and was locked shut. Vorantor pried at it, with no success, and Cederic gently took it out of his hands and gave it to me. “Sesskia,” he said, and I used the mind-moving pouvra to unlock it. That set my head to pounding, so I handed the book back to Cederic and massaged my temples.

Cederic opened it, then handed it to Vorantor with a bow. I’m pretty sure he only did this because he knew Vorantor wouldn’t be able to read it, and he could afford to look gracious. Vorantor turned a few pages and tried to appear wise and contemplative, but I thought he only looked like a fool.

“It is the book,” the God-Empress said, and everyone moved aside while trying not to look like they were fleeing. She walked right up to Vorantor and took the book from him, and the air hummed with the sound of fifty-one people, myself included, trying not to shout at the divine madwoman who had no experience in handling ancient books. Though it didn’t look ancient, something the God-Empress pointed out immediately. “This can’t be the right one,” she said.

“No, God-Empress, the book comes from a time when it was new, so it has not experienced the passing of time,” Terrael said, surprising everyone except Cederic. Then he shocked everyone by taking the book away from her and turning to the first pages. “I can’t read it yet, God-Empress, and I apologize for asking for more of your patience” (I had no idea Terrael could be so diplomatic!) “but I can verify whether this is the book we wanted, if you’ll allow me a moment.”

He skimmed the first few pages, turned to the back and examined the binding, then turned to a page about two-thirds of the way through and looked at it closely. “The first pages contain the name Veris, the binding has been repaired where an extra signature was inserted—a signature is a bundle of pages, God-Empress—and this is the page where Veris gave the book to her successor, Barklan; the handwriting changes. This is the Codex Tiurindi.

Now it didn’t matter that the God-Empress was standing among us; everyone cheered, or gasped, or cried, or did something to express their excitement and relief, which meant that Cederic turned away with his head bowed, and I hugged Audryn and we both tried not to dance. Terrael was already trying to read the book, but Vorantor took it gently from him and said, “All in good time, Master Peressten! God-Empress, thank you for allowing us the joy of your presence on this day. I assure you—”

“Don’t bore me with your assurances, Denril Vorantor,” the God-Empress said, all traces of her earlier lack of focus gone. “You told me the book would keep my empire safe from this disaster. Show me.”

That shut everyone’s celebrating down. Vorantor’s mouth sagged open. “We—God-Empress, we need to translate it, it’s not so simple—”

“Show me something, Denril Vorantor, or I will make your life very simple indeed,” the God-Empress said.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 69

26 Lennitay

That was the most astonishing experience, on so many levels.

And yes, it worked.

We woke extra early, long before sunrise, and ate a quick but filling breakfast—Vorantor wasn’t sure how long the kathana would take, and we all needed to stay alert and undistracted by physical demands, so there was a lot of use of the chamber pots as well. Some of the groundwork was done yesterday, so the floor inside the gold ring was dotted with th’an, a type that are inactive until some other th’an wakes them up.

Vorantor walked around, chatting with people in his “I’m a great leader” way, while Cederic sat to one side with his hands resting on his knees, apparently meditating. I tried to do a little meditating myself, but I was too excited to manage it. So I watched the others. Four of Vorantor’s mages, all of them men, were stripping out of their robes to only their trousers for the body-scribing aspect of the kathana.

This is what I know, as per Terrael’s explanation:

A kathana, in essence, brings th’an together in a particular order at particular times to achieve a result larger than anything single th’an or small groups of th’an can produce. Most of them require multiple mages to complete, if only because people only have so many hands. And the mages have to practice together for hours to get the timing exactly right. That’s what everyone else has been doing while I struggled to master my single th’an: practicing scribing th’an in the right order at the right time.

And this is a hugely complex kathana, a summoning kathana, that describes a reality in which something that was not, is. We’re trying to create a reality in which the Codex Tiurindi wasn’t destroyed so many hundreds of years ago, but exists here and now. My part is to unite those two realities for long enough that the kathana can make the Codex part of this one.

Personally, I think the fact that they can do this is evidence that Cederic is right, because what else are we dealing with but two worlds, two realities, that are coming together? And if it weren’t natural for realities to spring apart, we wouldn’t need my part of the kathana to keep them together. But Terrael shook his head when I brought this up and said realities and worlds aren’t the same thing, and then I think he became technical just to annoy me.

So I’ll explain all of that as it happened, which was directly after the God-Empress and her chicken-headed minions arrived, one of them, a fat, gray-haired woman, wearing a red tunic instead of black and carrying her helmet under her arm. The God-Empress was dressed rather plainly, for her, in gold brocade over white silk and pearls the size of quail eggs dangling around her neck.

Cederic and Vorantor greeted her with regulation bows, Cederic’s much shallower than Vorantor’s, and they had a low-voiced discussion that ended with the God-Empress beckoning to me and, when I approached, saying, “You will sit with me, won’t you, Sesskia? I would like someone to observe with.”

I looked to both Cederic and Vorantor for advice, and got nothing, because Cederic looked impassive and Vorantor had his eyes closed in his “that’s a really bad idea” expression. “Thank you for the invitation, Renatha,” I said, “but I must stand here to perform my part, or the kathana might not work.”

The God-Empress gazed at me, her eyes slightly unfocused, and then she said, “Of course. My priests, I will sit where you direct me,” but it took a while for them to “direct” her to a spot she liked. I returned to my position, which was at the base of the circle (it’s marked with the four cardinal and four ordinal directions, so the base of the circle is south), and balanced lightly on the balls of my feet, trying to stay relaxed and not to think about what the God-Empress might do if we failed.

Eventually, though, she was settled, and her soldiers were disposed throughout the room in a manner that did not suggest in any way that they had orders to begin slaughtering mages if the God-Empress was displeased, and Vorantor waved to everyone else to take their places. He signaled to the mage serving as drummer, who began beating the count, and when everyone had picked up the rhythm, Vorantor nodded to the first group to begin.

The first part was the easiest and required the most people. Those mages scribed th’an to complete the “phrases” already written in and around the circle. Terrael explained to me that it “wakes up” the magic (that was my phrase, not Terrael’s, and when I said it he rolled his eyes and said, “you’re almost a savage, you know that?” and I had to soak his head. Really, I had no choice) and gives a base shape to the kathana.

Savage or no, that part I did understand, since something similar happens when I learn a new pouvra. I was in a perfect position to watch this, and it’s beautiful, like a dance, with people passing back and forth across the circle, bending and swaying. Then they step away, and the body-scribers take their places at the four ordinal directions, sit down just outside the circle, and begin writing th’an on their chests and faces.

It’s awe-inspiring, how perfectly synchronized they are. The body-scribing is to attune those mages to the kathana, and it’s extremely dangerous because in a way, they’re linking their hearts and lungs to the kathana so it will persist beyond the instantaneous effect of activating the final th’an, and it could kill them if we aren’t perfectly accurate.

They didn’t look afraid. It took only a few minutes for their bodies to be crisscrossed with inky markings. As they each drew a final mark from the bridge of their noses down over their lips and to the point of their chins, those markings began to glow with a blue so bright it was painful to look at. I kept my eyes focused on the spot painted in red on the wall beyond the circle. It was my guiding mark for when it was my turn in the kathana.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 68

25 Lennitay

It felt as if something connected inside my head this morning, and suddenly the fire pouvra was as easy as thought, any shape, any size, whatever I imagined, it would do. There was total silence from my observers when I tested the final pouvra and the fire th’an hung in the air, then shrank in on itself with a deep bell-like tone that made the walls resonate. Nobody cheered, but I could feel the excitement, see it on their faces. Vorantor embraced me and said some meaningless and slightly patronizing things. Cederic just smiled.

The mages are setting up the kathana for tomorrow. The God-Empress has been notified. I’m sure I won’t be able to sleep tonight for excitement. Tomorrow, we’ll have the Codex Tiurindi, and Terrael can begin translating it, and soon Cederic will have his proof, and we can really begin work.

New release 12/17–EXILE OF THE CROWN

ExileoftheCrown-eBook (2)I never imagined, when I wrote the first three books of Tremontane, that Zara North would be so popular. In response to all the questions about what happened to her after SERVANT OF THE CROWN, I wrote a novella touching on a few events of her life over the fifty years (fifty years!) following her “death.” Titled EXILE OF THE CROWN, it’s available for preorder at–and it’s only 99 cents! I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it!

In other news, the third novel, AGENT OF THE CROWN, will be out early in 2016, and the fourth novel, VOYAGER OF THE CROWN, is due to be published by June of 2016. AGENT is the story of Elspeth and Owen’s daughter Telaine, and VOYAGER is Zara’s own novel. Following that is a trilogy about Willow North, the first North Queen, release date to be determined later.


Sesskia’s Diary, part 67

23 Lennitay

We need a rest day. We’re not getting one. Cederic lost that argument with Vorantor. Vorantor’s mages close to rebelling—I think everyone wishes Cederic were in charge. No note tonight.

24 Lennitay

Success! The binding th’an works! But there wasn’t time to either celebrate or experiment further to determine what size it should be, because it was a honey day and all of us, including me, were expected to put on golden robes and accompany the God-Empress to an amphitheater filled with citizens, then demonstrate kathanas for the crowds.

I now understand that the mages are also priests because magic is considered divine power, which the priest-mages perform in service to and with the permission of the God-Empress. I wanted to ask what would happen if the mages decided to rebel against her, set themselves up as the rulers of the empire, but that’s the sort of question that’s dangerous to ask.

The God-Empress stood on a platform that raised her fifteen feet above the amphitheater floor, waving her hand in the same complicated, flowing salute she’d used the day we toured Colosse. Even though Vorantor is “most high priest,” Cederic had to wear his red robe and officiate, which both he and Vorantor hated. It’s increasingly clear that Vorantor is deeply jealous of his “old friend” and regrets bringing him back to Colosse, not that he had any say in the matter. I don’t know if Vorantor always felt this way—he isn’t a bad mage, actually he’s very talented, he’s just not in Cederic’s class and I’m sure that bothers him. And I can’t really blame him for that.

Well, yes, I can, but that’s because I dislike him and his habit of doing things that are the opposite of what Cederic suggests, just to spite him. Cederic never acts as if he notices, just politely accepts whatever Vorantor decrees. I’d say I wish Cederic would spit in his eye sometime, but if he ever lost control to that degree, I’d be too shocked to appreciate the spectacle.

I’ve been practicing the fire th’an in my room before I go to sleep at night. It’s getting easier, but I’m trying not to relapse into that state of gut-wrenching anxiety that nearly destroyed everything. Ten more tries, and then it’s bed for me. I checked the observatory already—there was a note. I really wish I could read.